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STB issues draft environmental report on CN's proposed 'J' acquisition; expects to release final report in five to six months


The good news for Canadian National Railway Co. in its attempt to acquire a major portion of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. (EJ&E): The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the transaction. The bad news: The board likely won't complete its environmental review and issue a final decision on the deal by year's end, as CN had hoped.

The draft EIS identifies and analyzes potential environmental impacts that could occur after CN acquires most of the 198-mile EJ&E — which operates a mainline that encircles Chicago — and renames the operations the EJ&EW West Co. The statement also addresses recommended and voluntary mitigation measures, and incorporates comments submitted by more than 5,000 members of the public.

The STB's Section of Environmental Analysis (SEA) now will provide a 60-day public comment period on the draft EIS. Comments are due to the STB Sept. 30. The SEA will host eight open house/public meetings between Aug. 25 and Sept. 11 in the Chicago area to discuss the draft EIS.

At the conclusion of the comment period, the SEA will prepare a final EIS that, in part, will respond to comments received by the board. The STB expects to release the final EIS sometime in December or January, then issue a final decision shortly afterward. In May, CN petitioned the STB to expedite the environmental review, asking the board to release a final EIS by early November and issue a final decision by Dec. 1.

The Class I plans to participate in the 60-day public comment process, as well as any related hearings, CN officials said in a statement released July 28.

“The facts set forth in the draft EIS conform to our view that the environmental issues raised in this proceeding can be reasonably mitigated,” they said. “CN remains committed to continuing to work with all communities along the EJ&E to come to agreement on appropriate mitigation measures, as detailed in CN’s comprehensive voluntary mitigation proposal.”

Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 40 Chicago-area communities that oppose the acquisition — primarily because of traffic, economic and environmental concerns — plans to analyze the draft EIS to ensure the interests of the "more than 1 million residents who are negatively impacted by the EJ&E acquisition" are protected, according to a statement released Friday. The Regional Answer to Canadian National (TRAC) Coalition will continue to work with federal and state lawmakers to seek legislative solutions to economic and environmental issues, TRAC leaders said.

The issues are of "paramount importance to our communities, which is evident by the record number of citizens turning out for community rallies and public hearings," they said. "Just [last] week, residents from three more communities voiced their concerns in an overwhelming manner against this proposed acquisition."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/28/2008